02 July, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

In case anyone had any doubts that waterboarding is torture, our own beloved Christopher Hitchens subjected himself to it, and reports that yes, it's fucking torture:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.


The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it’s of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said, “Any time is a long time when you’re breathing water.” I could have hugged him for saying so, and just then I was hit with a ghastly sense of the sadomasochistic dimension that underlies the relationship between the torturer and the tortured. I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

And this is what the United States now considers "enhanced interrogation." I think we can lay that myth to rest. No matter what the Bush regime chooses to call it, we are engaged in the torture of other human beings.

This revelation from Carpetbagger should also provide us something in the way of a clue:

It’s not that U.S. interrogators were winging it with detainees at Guantanamo Bay, without any guidelines or suggested tactics; it’s that the interrogators were given the wrong model to follow. Trainers ended up using, “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From
Air Force Prisoners of War.”

The military trainers who came to Guantanamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

As Matt Yglesias responded, “I’ve seen lots of commentary on the revelation that Bush administration torture techniques have been modeled on the work of the ChiComs but not much specific focus on the fact that the main purpose of these Chinese torture techniques was to elicit false confessions…. [T]o literally rip your techniques off from a study called ‘Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War’ requires some level of obliviousness I wasn’t aware of.”

Indeed, it makes that much more difficult to deny the use of torture when you’re relying on a guide of abusive tactics used by the Chinese during the Korean War — the very tactics the U.S. has always labeled “torture.”

Doesn't it just? Rather makes it difficult to argue that we "have" to use these techniques in order to elicit "valuable information." But this administration has never let facts get in the way of their agenda, so I don't think this is going to faze them a bit.

And the ACLU has documented through a Freedom of Information Act request just how far this regime will go to hide the truth:

"As these files remind us, many charges of war crimes in Iraq have not seen the light of day," said Michael Pheneger, a retired Army intelligence colonel who is also a board member of the ACLU. "There are many discoveries here that should bring pause to any American who cares about this country and hopes to restore the United States' respected role in the world. It
is time to bring the facts about this war into the sunlight and end practices that go against our laws and national values."

Through its FOIA project, the ACLU has made public information on Defense Department policies designed to control information about the human costs of war. These practices include:

• Banning photographers on U.S. military bases from covering the arrival of caskets containing the remains of U.S. soldiers killed overseas;

• Paying Iraqi journalists to write positive accounts of the U.S. war effort;

• Inviting U.S. journalists to "embed" with military units but requiring them to submit their stories for pre-publication review;

• Erasing journalists' footage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan; and

• Refusing to disclose statistics on civilian casualties.

Did any of us ever think we'd live in an America in which this sort of fuckery was normal?


Efrique said...

Oh good. I was about to point you to some discussion of that second thing (the communist false confession playbook one).

Cujo359 said...

Far from being ashamed of how he feels, Hitchens should be proud. He went the extra mile here, and to describe the experience in such personal terms ought to convince just about anyone that this is torture.

I'm not a big fan of his. In fact, Hitchens has been quite a dickhead lately. He earned a lot of respect with this story, though. If he's heard even half the things I have about water boarding, he has a lot of guts.

John Pieret said...

I wonder if McCain has ever published an account of his treatment by the North Vietnamese. If so, it might be interesting to compare it to our Gitmo techniques and ask McCain what he thought of them at the time.